MARYVILLE, Mo. — For 20 years Tom “Big Bird” Ciak has shared his love of the outdoors with Maryville residents by way of his business Big Bird’s Bait & Bows. Now that time is coming to an end and Ciak hopes to pass the business on to someone younger with a strong interest in archery.
Closing because of health issues, two years ago Ciak was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer and has undergone chemotherapy and regular treatments.
“It’s time to retire,” he said. He and his wife Jenell’s focus has shifted to family needs including watching his grandchildren.
Born and raised in Connecticut, Ciak moved to California and eventually found his way to Maitland, where his wife Jenell has family. Once there he began selling archery equipment at a tractor repair shop – also part of the business for sale – and then moved to Mozingo Lake Recreation Park in 1999.
There he applied for a Mathews dealership and began offering bait and bows for anglers and hunters. While business was good, in 2007 the property he was on sold and he moved his business into town.
“It was a good move for the archery side ... the bait, wasn’t as good,” he said Tuesday.
The business offers live bait, tackle, firearm transfers, targets and bows, along with other sundries, and by the end of February 2020, Ciak intends to close.
While the store stock and even the fixtures are for sale, the space is rented. Ciak suggested anyone interested in the business, might consider a larger facility and offer an indoor range.
“That was always what our goal was, but it never happened,” he said. “Archery there are a lot of places going out (of business). There are (fewer) hunters.”
Local bait and tackle shop needed
Once the store closes, the only one other bait and tackle shop available in the area, Ciak said is TightlinesUV Lure Co. and it doesn’t sell live bait.
“Maryville does need a bait and tackle shop,” he said. “Once we’re gone, the lake has limited time that they’ll sell minnows and they’re not going to sell goldfish.”
He explained that keeping live bait puts a lot of moisture into the air that can play havoc with the creation of specialty lures.
“We’d prefer to have it bought out rather than close,” Ciak said. “I still wish somebody’d just come in and buy it.”
He’s had a few people who’ve expressed an interest, but most have said they know little about archery.
“You can’t sell archery if you know nothing about it,” he said. Should a buyer be interested, they should contact Ciak at the business.
Liquidation and auction possible
For the last year, Ciak has been decreasing his inventory through sales, and several yard sales he held over the summer. The walls still offer an abundance of product from lures and weights to racks of bows, there are still specials to be made.
In March after the shop closes, Ciak said he plans to hold an auction and is considering a different location on the downtown square if possible. He will need more space for buyers to view the products.
He said that future auction he hopes will be run by Bill Brookshier, the man who first piqued his interest in the archery business.
Ciak had been bow hunting for many years before opening his business, but it was Brookshier who got him interested in creating his own arrows.
“He started me off by ‘I’ll show you how to fletch these arrows, but you’re doing your own from now on.’ ‘I’ll teach you how to serve the string, but after that you’re on your own,’” Ciak recalled.
Realizing he could make himself a few bows and arrows, the interest took root. Ciak still has five bows at home, he won’t be selling. Memorabilia and trophies crowd the walls in his business, each with their own story.
Still finding time to hunt, Ciak didn’t get anything with a bow this year, but he did get a six-point buck with a gun.
That buck barely compares to the massive deer he took down with a bow in 2014,“Stickers.”
The 300-pound (when field-dressed), 18-point, 10 sticker – points of less than an inch – deer broke the Missouri Bowhunters Association’s non-typical antler record previously set at 194.875 in 1982.
When shot, “Stickers” ranked 15th in Missouri for size and for a bow kill. He ended up scoring 207 and an eighth inches.
“Which is big, very few people shoot on a free range deer,” he said. “He was the best eating deer we had.”
“Stickers,” is still on display in his shop. Ciak recalled showing people the skull plate before it was mounted and it was on a trip to a Mathews Dealer Show with the rack, that he got bronchitis, went to a doctor and found out he had high blood pressure. It was during an annual checkup for that diagnosis, when his doctor found telltale signs of the cancer, which now threatens his life.
“I’m ready to do nothing,” he said.
The plan is to move to Louisiana and perhaps help out part time with a shop down there run by Southern Boyz Outdoors, owner Kinion Bankston. However, he said it’s quite possible he’ll just take it easy for a while.
Throughout his time in the archery industry, Ciak said he’s hunted in Alaska, Connecticut, Canada, California and Missouri. During that time he’s also met a lot of good people, including Bankston and many others: Michael Lee and Kevin Knighton from Backwoods Life, Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo of “Archers Choice” fame, Stubbs Lucas from Real South Hunting and famous alligator hunter Bruce Mitchell from “Swamp People.”
Even after selling or closing his shop, Ciak will always be an archery aficionado and member of the Nodaho Bow Hunters, a nonprofit archery club in Maitland.
He also still plans to travel to Las Vegas for the annual World Archery Vegas Shoot, the largest indoor archery tournament in the world.
“I can’t quit going to Vegas, I’ve got too many friends,” he said.